With the amount of cheffy brilliance this town is pumping out, making a ripple in the talent pool can be a difficult endeavor — especially so for a pastry chef. But now and again, you'll hear about those pastry gurus changing the scene and pushing it forward. Tova du Plessis is one of those people, and at long last, she's opening a place of her own: Essen Bakery at 1437 East Passyunk Avenue.
South Africa-born du Plessis grew up in a kosher home, braiding challah every Friday for weekly, multi-coursed Shabbat feasts. She received a biology degree in the United States with plans to become a doctor, but a change of heart sent her on a different path— to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley. While interning at the three Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood, she met Michael Solomonov, and soon after, found herself on the CookNSolo staff, first a line cook at Zahav, then sous chef at Citron & Rose. After that partnership ended, du Plessis took on the role of pastry sous at Le Bec-Fin (before it closed), where she stood put to open Avance, which, evidently, didn't go so well. Most recently, she worked for The Rittenhouse Hotel, handling all things dessert and pastry at Lacroix.
Now the mother of a baby girl, Lily, du Plessis is back in action with Essen Bakery ("essen" is Yiddish for "to eat" or "food") in the space that once housed Fond co-owner Jessie Prawlucki Styer's little gemstone bakery, Belle Cakery, across from the Acme shopping center. Hours will go from Wednesday - Sunday, early morning to late afternoon. Inside, and similarly to Belle Cakery, there will be a handful of tables for dining in. Expect traditionally Jewish breads (challah and rye), babkas, rugelach, cakes and cheesecakes. Additionally, du Plessis will offer a daily sandwich menu; think Mediterranean tuna sandwiches, complete with hard boiled eggs, potatoes, and arugula served on your choice of challah or rye. Drink-wise, du Plessis chose Elixr Coffee Roasters for her store, available in every variety: drip, cold brew, french press and pour over. Late-March is Essen's expected opening.
Note: nothing about Fond's outstanding dessert program will change. Styer will continue to use the space, part-time, for all her restaurant needs — a little deal the two chefs came up with given their close relationship.